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Motion on recognition of the State of Palestine

Diplomatic Relations, International relations, European Union, MoS Dara Murphy, Speech, Middle East and North Africa, Ireland, 2014

 

Private Members’ Business

Motion on recognition of the State of Palestine

Remarks by Minister of State Dara Murphy on behalf of the Government

 

This evening’s motion “calls on the Government to officially recognise the State of Palestine ... as a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;”

I would like to recognise the motion itself as a positive contribution to a discussion here in the Dáil on this issue. Its terms are carefully worded. There is a great deal in it that reflects consistent Irish Government policy, under different parties, and that will command support across the House. For that reason, and in that spirit, the Government has not sought to oppose or to amend the motion before us today.

Ceann Comhairle,

It has been the objective of this Government since it took office to work to bring about the achievement – in concrete reality and not just in theory or in symbolism – of a fully sovereign State of Palestine. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, and his predecessor Deputy Gilmore, have consistently stated here and elsewhere that we looked forward to being able to recognise that state, and as early as possible. We have stated very clearly that it is long overdue for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory to end, and for Palestinians to enjoy the same rights of freedom and self determination as others, and as we do ourselves.

All of the Government’s actions and policies on the Middle East have been designed to achieve that end. As the motion sets out, Ireland has already taken a number of deliberate steps to advance the Palestinian cause along the path towards statehood. The previous Government, in January 2011, upgraded the status and titles used by the Palestinian mission in Ireland, to a point just short of the full diplomatic status of an Embassy. In October 2011 Ireland voted with a majority in agreeing to admit Palestine as a member of UNESCO. And a critical stage was reached in November 2012 when Ireland voted in favour of seating Palestine as a ‘non member observer state’ at the UN General Assembly in New York. We have thus made clear our openness to the full achievement of a Palestinian state and our willingness to take steps to help this come about.

Ireland has therefore been clear all along about where we wanted to go. The only issue has been about timing, and about how we can best achieve our objective.

Broadly, there have been three main strands to our engagement:

European Union

It has hitherto been the general position in Europe – held by successive Irish Governments and by the great majority of EU partners, including Sweden until now – that the establishment of a Palestinian State, and recognition of it, should come about as a result of a comprehensive peace agreement between the two sides to the conflict. The primary reason for this is that in practical terms a Palestinian state cannot exist without the ending of the Israeli occupation.

Sweden's change of mind in October, in deciding to take a different view and immediately recognise Palestine, has revived interest in the question of recognition. I will return to that central question shortly, but first I want to address some other points arising from the motion before us this evening.

Successive Irish Governments have seen the promotion of a just and equitable peace in the Middle East as a key element of Irish foreign policy, to be pursued both in our bilateral relations and in particular through our influence on the Middle East policy of the European Union.

Ireland led the adoption by the EU of the central objective of a two state solution to the conflict, to bring about a fully sovereign state of Palestine co-existing alongside Israel. This remains the only vision of the future which can satisfy the aspirations, and ensure the security and prosperity, of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict remains a major priority in Ireland’s international diplomacy. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has actively used all appropriate opportunities, bilaterally and in the context of the United Nations General Assembly and the recent Cairo Conference on reconstruction in Gaza, to seek to advance consideration of the issue. He has led efforts to ensure that it is given due attention on the EU agenda. He has sought to frame a rethinking of the Union’s approach on how best to create the conditions for progress and incentivise the parties to engage in meaningful negotiations.

As one of the member States with the strongest commitment to the Palestinian cause, it is of course sometimes frustrating that it can be so difficult to persuade the EU as a whole to move in the direction we might want. But it is precisely our influence within the EU that gives us weight on this issue. Retaining and maximising that influence is an important objective for us, which we must consider carefully. Some have argued that we should recognise Palestine tomorrow. But it would do the Palestinian people and their cause no service if, in doing so, we were to marginalise or weaken our own voice in the EU on this issue. We can only push the envelope if we are inside it.

That judgement – when to lead by example and when to seek to build support – is one that we must make for ourselves, and that the Government must make.

Capacity building/humanitarian

The Motion also calls on the Government to assist in developing the institutions of the future Palestinian state. This is a critical task, one which is goes beyond just readying Palestine for statehood, and in fact it is one we have been engaged on for some years. This issue, and the other element of our engagement, on the humanitarian side, will be addressed by my colleague, Minister Sean Sherlock, speaking next, who is particularly concerned with these areas.

Ceann Comhairle,

We are all conscious of the worsening situation in the Israeli Palestine issue. Direct negotiations have ended and an early resumption is hard to envisage. The relentless construction of settlements continues to eat away both the physical and political space where a state of Palestine can be constructed. The recent dreadful conflict in Gaza, and the worsening situation now in East Jerusalem, remind us of the violent possibilities just under the surface. And the regional background to the problem has greatly darkened.

Against this context, there is much soul-searching going on in the international community about what can we do to break the stalemate in the Middle East. Ireland has concentrated on pressing within the EU for a serious reappraisal of overall Middle East strategy, and in particular for stronger action against the policies on the ground which are making a two state solution harder and harder to achieve, principally those related to settlements. This is a difficult discussion, and one on which member States by no means agree, but we are working to push it forward.

This frustration has led some, including now the Government of Sweden, to see recognition as a possible way of breaking the stalemate, and I think this is the sense in which this evening’s motion is put forward. That is certainly a point of view to be considered carefully.

Recognition has potential symbolic value. But it will not increase at all the degree of control which Palestinians have or do not have on their own lives. It is not a magic bullet. If international recognition of Palestine was going to break the stalemate, then it would have happened long ago. As the motion notes, over 130 countries around the world have recognised Palestine, many of them for many years, without this bringing nearer an end to the conflict. It is important that we remain focused on our efforts to centre attention on negative Israeli policies on the ground.

We want to do whatever will help. That means we also need to think through any negative aspects to what we might be contemplating. Recognition, like many policies, may answer some questions but open up others.

There is an obvious problem in that the Palestinian Authority, which is the body which has changed its name to the State of Palestine, was set up under the Oslo Accords in cooperation with Israel, and controls only a part of what should be the Palestinian state – less than half of the West Bank and none of Gaza, at present.

It is an issue that the Fatah/Hamas split has prevented Presidential or legislative elections from being held in Palestine for many years since they were due. It could be an issue if Hamas, a designated terrorist movement which does not yet accept the existence of Israel, again becomes the government of a state of Palestine which we recognise, and whose representatives would have diplomatic status here.

None of these issues need preclude a decision by Ireland to recognise, but they do deserve careful consideration, by ourselves and in concert with partners.

We do also recognise, of course, the powerful longing of Palestinians for their own state, and the value of symbols and gestures. These have a weight of their own to be considered.

The support of the Seanad in October, and I expect of the Dáil tomorrow, are important considerations. As in most countries, however, recognition of foreign States is ultimately a decision for the Government to take.

The key question, for us and for the EU, is will recognition help or hinder the search for a comprehensive peace? Up to now, the general view has been that it would not help. That view may now be changing, but at present it remains the view of the great majority of EU Member States.

And for Ireland there is the separate consideration which I have already mentioned – will recognition at this moment, in advance of other partners, increase our influence on the issue in the EU – i.e. our ability to achieve our goal, or will it leave us marginalised and less influential? Sweden, which long held the same position as most other partners, has recently taken the opposite view. But even other Nordic states,with which Sweden forms a close knit group, have not yet followed its lead on recognition.

There is now, however, a period of reflection going on in the EU on this issue, prompted by Sweden’s decision and by frustration at overall events. Ireland is playing an active part in that reflection.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has made it clear that the Government has an open mind on the role which early recognition of Palestine might play in that. He has stated that, against the backdrop of a worsening situation on the ground, he is open to any option which he believes would move things forward.

So to conclude, and speaking on behalf of the Government, I acknowledge that the terms of the motion before us are for the most part consistent with the Government’s view of the situation. We have always looked forward to recognising Palestine as early as possible, and that moment is now clearly a lot closer than it was even in 2011. We will take very careful note of the opinions clearly expressed in both Dail and Seanad.

But we will also continue to take part in the EU discussion on recognition which we were instrumental in opening only last month. We will seek to create the conditions for a resumption of meaningful negotiations on a two-state solution. And we will pursue our efforts with our partners to support economic development and build the necessary institutional capacity on the Palestinian side.

The Government will decide on national recognition by Ireland at the point where we believe it will make a positive contribution to the objectives clearly expressed in today’s motion.

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